So here we are on the eve of the annual snooker extravaganza at The Crucible theatre with 32 players still dreaming of lifting that famous trophy on the first Monday in May.I must admit I have found a large part of this season to be pretty uninspiring,but often the long matches bring out all that is best in the game and I have no doubt it will do so here again.
That said though,if that Ronnie doesn't show up I think we have possibly the most open World championship we've ever seen,with possibly up to 10 other real contenders for the crown of which these are the most probable
Suppose the obvious place to start is with defending champion Stuart Bingham,who shocked the snooker world last year with his run to the title.Unfortunately for Stuart the heightened expectation that comes with the crown has weighed heavily on his shoulders this season and he has really struggled to get any sort of run going.This plus the dreaded "Crucible curse" would make him becoming the first first time winner to defend the title seem very unlikely,but who knows,he climbed the mountain once so why not again.
The man most people see as the the main threat to Ronnie is the 2010 champion Neil Robertson. Robertson looked to be playing as well if not better than ever when he lifted the UK Championship last December and although his form has tailed off a bit since he may well be just concentrating on peaking at the right time.He certainly will have to be at his best in what looks the most competitive quarter of the draw.
Next in the betting and also in that quarter is Judd Trump, who finally got back to winning ways,lifting the China Open title for a second time a couple of weeks ago.Trump though has had a very in and out sort of season and on that evidence its hard to imagine him getting through this championship without having a few mini crises along the way.How he ultimately does will depend on how he handles them.he has at such times in the past been found wanting.
Last years runner up Shaun Murphy by his own admission struggled for a long time to get over that defeat,but produced a commanding performance in winning the World Grand Prix last month and will once again be eyeing up another run at the title here with a potential quarter final against Ronnie in the offing
The big story early in the season was the re-emergence of John Higgins who was showing that life can at least begin again at 40,as he won the Australian Open & the International Championship before pushing Robertson harder than anyone else at the UK.Since then though that odd silly miss has crept into his game again and I just have my doubts that he can sustain his form long enough these days to challenge at the business end.
Its seems strange to have gotten this far through my preview without mentioning Mark Selby,but such has been his lack of form this season it is easy to overlook the 2014 champ.The fact that he pulled out of the most recent events for personal reasons you have to just wonder if his mind will be fully on the job here.If its not a potentially tricky first round opponent in Robert Milkins was the last thing he wanted.However if he is up for this he will prove as difficult to beat as always.
The spectacular fall from grace of Ding Junhui has been sad to watch this season and even a recent rally in form wasn't enough to spare him the indignity of having to qualify for the championship. To his credit though he knuckled down to fairly breezed his way through the qualifiers and it may well be having come here in years past with massive expectations on his shoulders,that this may turn into a blessing.He will need to hit the ground running though as he faces German Masters champ Martin Gould in round one before a potential clash with Trump in round 2.
Of the others recent Player Championship winner Mark Allen may well see this as his best chance of winning the games biggest prize,especially if Selby in the same quarter fails to shine & maybe Ricky Walden could put his recent final defeats behind him to produce a run.
All in all a fascinating 17 days ahead with the following my recommended value bets
Ricky Walden to win his quarter 11/2
Mark Allen to win his quarter 5/2
Round One Lucky 15 : Ebdon (9/4) Carter (7/5) Perry (10/11) McManus (9/4)